Did you know that Henry VIII had six wives? Several ended up beheaded or somehow charged for a crime they did not commit. Catherine of Aragon was the first and longest reigning wife of Henry VIII. She ruled more years than all of Henry's wives put together (Wikipedia int). Their marriage was annulled after her failure to produce a male heir as Henry believed that a strong monarchy depended on a male heir (World History 336). Catherine of Aragon reigned as queen consort of England for twenty-four years.
Catherine of Aragon was born in Alaciá de Hendres on December 16, 1485. She was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Catherine was the third-great-granddaughter of Edward III of England. She was a fourth cousin of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York (Wikipedia int).
Catherine's first marriage was to Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, on November 14, 1501 at Saint Paul's. England needed an alliance with the Spanish royal family; so Arthur, Prince of Wales, was promised to Catherine in the Treaty of Medina del Campo in 1489 (Who's Who int). Shortly after their marriage, both fell to an infection. On April 2, 1502, Arthur died. Because their marriage had never been consummated, Pope Julius II issued a dispensation.
After Arthur's death, Catherine was not allowed to return to Spain. She was used as a pawn of Henry VII. Catherine was left in Europe with no money and consequently fell into debt. Upon the death of his wife, Henry VII suggested that he should marry Catherine. Isabella was so shocked at the idea that she agreed to Catherine's engagement instead to Henry VIII. Though Catherine was not allowed to see Henry often, she continued to work to maintain the Anglo-Spanish alliance (Who's Who int).
Catherine of Aragon married Henry VIII on June 11, 1509 and was crowned queen on June 24 (Who's Who int). Catherine was extremely popular with the people of England; although, after many years of marriage, she became increasingly unpopular with her husband (Wikipedia int). Henry was unfaithful; but because she was treated respectfully, his cheating was ignored. Catherine was expected to produce a male heir to the throne of England. Catherine endured six pregnancies between 1510 and 1518 (Who's Who int). After one still born, two miscarriages, and two short-lived sons, they were left with one surviving child- Mary I (Wikipedia int).
Overtime Catherine's marriage to Henry VIII began to deteriorate. There were many factors in their marriage troubles. One main factor was Catherine's failure to produce a male heir. Henry feared that because the Tudor dynasty was new, their legitimacy might be tested. There was no tradition of a successful ruling queen (Wikipedia int). Because of their lack of heirs, Henry believed that his marriage was cursed. Proof of his belief is stated in this exert from an online encyclopedia: Because of the lack of heirs, Henry began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from two verses of the biblical Book of Leviticus, which said that, if a man marries his brother's wife, the couple will be childless. He chose to believe that Catherine had lied when she said her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, therefore making their marriage wrong in the eyes of God. (Wikipedia int)
Henry was also infatuated with Anne Boleyn. Because of his father-in-law's deceit, he questioned his desire for a Spanish alliance (Who's Who int). Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage in 1527. Henry separated from Catherine in July 1531 and secretly married Anne Boleyn in January 1533 (Wikipedia int). After seven years of stalling, the English Church made a ruling on Catherine's marriage to Henry VIII. To Henry's disappointment on March 23, 1534, their marriage was declared legal (Who's Who int). On May 23, 1533, Henry had Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, to annul the marriage himself (Wikipedia int). Henry then had Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy "repudiating Papal jurisdiction in England, making the king the head of the English church, and beginning the English reformation" (Wikipedia int).
After her divorce, Catherine was commanded to abandon the title queen. She was pressured to say marriage was illegitimate from the start, and she refused to accept the Act of Supremacy. She was moved from house to house and her daughter was forbidden to visit (Who's Who int). Mary I was also declared illegitimate. Catherine of Aragon died on January 7, 1536 at Kembolton Castle from a form of cancer. Henry did not attempt and Princess Mary was not allowed to attend her funeral (Wikipedia int). Throughout all the pain, Catherine retained her feelings for Henry. Her last letter to him said, "Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things" (Wikipedia int). Henry's feeling for Catherine were clearly expressed through his response after receiving the news of her death, "God be praised, the old harridan is dead" (Who's Who int).
Catherine of Aragon was a strong woman. Throughout her entire ordeal, she remained "Henry's loyal subject, she would obey him in everything, except she would not disobey God and her conscience" (Who's Who int). She was a woman of great intellect. Thomas Cromwell said, "Nature wronged the queen in not making her a man. But [sic] for her sex she would have surpassed all the heroes of history" (Who's Who int). Catherine reigned with much respect from the English people. Though her funeral service was due to a Princess Dowager (the title given to her after Prince Arthur's death), not a queen, Catherine is still revered as a great Queen of England for her twenty-four years of service.
Evans, Charlotte, ed. History of the World. New York: Kingfisher, 1992. 351. Miller, Sue, ed. World History People and Nations. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and
Winston, 2000. 336.
"Catherine of Aragon." Who's Who in British History. 1998: int. Wilson Biographies. Magnolia. Warren Central H.S. Lib., Vicksburg, MS. 31 Jan. 2006 . "Catherine of Aragon." Wikipedia. 10 Feb. 2006